By Mara Abbott
CTS Contributing Editor
My past two weeks: Move to a new state, start a new job, and then spend eight days based out of a hotel room in Houston for a conference. As a single, pro racer, I had strong admiration for athletes who successfully structured their training around career and family obligations. As I’m now working the first strict 8–5 job of my life, it shouldn’t take too long for me to find out if I can measure up.
Still, as I’ve been holed up in the Hampton Inn, learning from the top investigative journalism editors and reporters in the country, I’ve been pleased to learn that many of the on-the-road habits I honed as a racer actually carry over quite nicely to the kind of travel that requires business casual and a conference badge. Whether you travel regularly or only on occasion, here are some of my top tips for staying on target when you are away from home.
Build a kitchen
In a hotel? I immediately check to see if my room comes with a mini-fridge, and if it doesn’t, I try to call ahead to negotiate one. Even if the hotel charges a fridge fee, I am confident I will always be able to pay off the bill in affordable snacks and picnic dinners. I’ve had extra-mile teammates who packed a flexible cutting board and pocketknife in their (checked) luggage, but I’ve also found that most anything can be sawed with plastic flatware if you work at it long enough.
I always travel with a sack of quick oats, and I have made a farm’s worth of hard-boiled eggs in my travel electric teakettle. If you are staying in an Airbnb or other vacation rental, your job is much simpler — just look for a property that has access to a kitchenette. Having healthy snacks on hand will help keep you in control of your nutrition — and hunger pangs — throughout the day and evening.
Find the nearest grocery store
Check out a map of your lodging and search for the nearest grocery stores. Summertime Houston didn’t have a lot that enticed me to extend my stay, but I did find a spectacular grocery with a deli and a salad bar just a five-minute walk from my downtown hotel.
Before you arrive, map out the best way to get to the store, whether that is walking, on a bus, or via ride-share, and stock up on veggies, fruit, and simple snacks like yogurt, deli meat, or cheese to have on hand. Yes — sometimes it seems like an incredibly arduous task, but for me, the comfort of knowing I will be well-nourished throughout my trip and I can take care of myself on budget is always worth the effort.
Check your commute
How far will you be staying from the conference center or office where you will be working? Many cities have bike share options like B-Cycle that offer monthly or weekly subscriptions, and can be an inexpensive way to commute. There is no better way to experience a new place than from the seat of a commuter bike, and the exceptional glee that comes from opening and closing a day of work with a bit of fresh air. You can also check with local bike shops to see if they would offer a deal on a commuter for a few days, or even look on Craigslist or Airbnb to see if anyone would offer you a temporary rental.
Plan your workouts in advance.
Communicate with your coach ahead of time to set specific goals for your travel periods. If you go into a travel period with a schedule and realistic expectations, you will be able to come out of it feeling confident and empowered rather than guilt-ridden or stressed. Once you have your prescribed workouts, look at your daily itinerary, figure out where you will fit them, and commit to making it a non-negotiable part of your day. Frequently, early-morning workouts are the easiest to protect from surprise commitments or enticing happy hour opportunities.
Make your breakfast count
A great hotel breakfast can help you stay fueled and on budget during a long trip, and can save you a bit of time that can then be dedicated to your morning workout. Many hotel breakfast buffets are laden with high-fat and high-sugar treats you may not have all the time at home. Just because the bacon and Danishes are there, doesn’t mean you need eat them (every morning). Depending on your moral compass, you can even grab an extra hard-boiled egg, a bagel, and a piece of fruit to stash in your bag in case your schedule doesn’t allow for a proper lunch break.
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If you find yourself sitting for extended periods, seek out ways to break it up, whether that is with a well-timed bathroom break (fringe benefit of proper hydration), offering to get coffee for the crew, or convincing your colleagues to stand for a two-minute stretch break at the top of every hour. Uninterrupted chair time can be tough on your low back and make for tight legs.
When I was racing, I always traveled with a Manduka eKO Superlite yoga mat. It came to Houston with me, and I tried to make sure I got it out for 15 minutes every night before bed. As an unpaid and genuine endorsement, this mat is a marvel: It’s small enough rolled up to fit in the water bottle holder of a backpack, but it is still very sticky and durable and is the perfect match for the carpet of any hotel room.
Shower in your shorts
If you aren’t interested in fitting a full week’s worth of workout apparel in your carry-on (or worse, carrying a week’s worth of sweaty workout clothes back home), try hopping in the shower fully clothed after your morning workout. Wash the clothes, hang them to dry, and you can pack light and still show up to your first meeting of the day smelling sweet.
See the opportunity
It’s unlikely that you will be hitting a weekly volume record while on a business trip, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t integrate your travel into your training schedule. Before you leave, research what fitness options will be available, whether that’s a hotel gym, a local rec center that offers day passes, a nearby trail or a handy set of stairs and a heavy book or two. Evaluate your options with your coach — this might be the perfect opportunity to focus on often-forgotten keys to performance like mobility, strength, or recovery. This can set you up to effectively raise the intensity once you’re back on home turf. A little forced variety is sometimes a gift in disguise on the way to reaching your goals.
Do you have any tried-and-true tips that I missed? Any advice for me or the rest of the CTS community? Share it in the comments below!
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